GREEN BAY – The fascinating saga unfolding in the Green Bay Packers’ front office has many more twists to take and possibly several more years to pass before the team’s next general manager is in place.
All things considered, my foggy crystal ball sees John Dorsey returning to Green Bay from Kansas City and becoming the most likely successor to Ted Thompson.
Of course, this is jumping the gun. Sorry, but the story is just too delicious not to keep analyzing.
Thompson, who turns 64 next week, is under contract through the 2018 draft. If he were to retire at that time, it would be the perfect scenario for a return by Dorsey.
Dorsey is contractually obligated to the Chiefs through the 2018 draft, according to sources. If Dorsey decides to postpone what surely will be future talks with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt on an extension, his contract would have expired and he’d be free to rejoin the Packers.
As Chiefs GM since January 2013, Dorsey has done a remarkable job. After going 23-42 (.354) under GM Scott Pioli from 2009-12, the Chiefs are 44-23 (.657) since Dorsey departed the Packers as director of football operations to take over a 2-14 team. The Packers are 43-26-1 (.621) in that same four-year period.
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The Chiefs (12-4), the second-seeded team in the AFC playoffs, have a chance to bring Kansas City its first berth in the Super Bowl since the 1969 season.
Hiring Dorsey would be a coup for Packers President Mark Murphy. In his nine years Murphy wisely has remained in the shadows supporting Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, both of whom came aboard during the tenure of Bob Harlan.
Dorsey, 56, is a hard-charging, hard-working evaluator who spent most of his 23 years in the Packers’ personnel department scouting college players. In Kansas City, he has aggressively used the draft, all forms of free agency, trades and waivers to turn the franchise around.
Although coach Andy Reid was hired shortly before Dorsey and subsequently recommended his former colleague in Green Bay to Hunt, it is Dorsey who has authority over personnel and the 53-man roster. Of the current 53, 48 were acquired by Dorsey.
Dorsey turned down chances to interview for other GM openings before seeking the job in Kansas City, which he considered an ideal fit. It’s a smaller market with a classic stadium and a fan base not unlike Green Bay’s. Plus, his wife, Patricia, was raised in Abilene, Kan., and practiced law for years in Kansas City.
Although he grew up in Maryland and played linebacker at Connecticut, Dorsey is regarded now as a “Green Bay guy” by many of his close friends in the state.
His oldest son, Bryant, is a prosecutor with the Brown County District Attorney’s office. Another son, Austin, works as an electrician in Milwaukee.
Last summer, Dorsey bought a home in Door County. McCarthy has a home of his own not far away.
“I always thought he was the type of guy who would want to come back to Green Bay,” said one of Dorsey’s long-time friends. “He loves the Packers. I do know that.”
His mentor, Ron Wolf, once said he never had a scout more proficient than Dorsey at unearthing information and making judgments on character and off-field issues.
Sources said Dorsey ranks as one of the NFL’s lowest-paid GMs. His market value has only increased as the Chiefs continue to win behind the stellar roster he has assembled and an average quarterback, Alex Smith, who was acquired via trade in March 2013.
Some have speculated that Thompson would retire if the Packers win another Super Bowl. It’s possible, but more and more the expectations are that he intends to keep working.
“Ted just has nothing other than football,” said one of his colleagues. “I’m not sure what he would do if he left. I’m afraid he would miss this terribly.”
It seems unlikely that Murphy ever would ask Thompson to accept a reduced role in which he would be expected to groom his eventual successor. That could be interpreted as a slap in the face to Thompson, and Murphy seems content to roll with the status quo and eight straight playoff appearances.
“I don’t think ‘Murph’ wants to do anything, to be honest with you,” a source close to team management said. “He walked into a great situation. He hasn’t had to hire anybody of any consequence.
“He’s just so involved with league stuff. I hope he realizes there’s nothing more important than that GM hire. I just kind of feel he’s dreaded the day he’s got to make that decision that will label his career.”
As Thompson has aged, health has become a larger factor in his life. He has cut back on some travel but peers say his tape study of both pro and collegiate tape remains voracious.
“Only Ted knows,” said an NFL personnel director. “It takes a lot of energy to do this. It’s all about the energy.”
If Thompson does sign an extension, the assumption is Dorsey then would sign a new and much more lucrative deal in Kansas City. At that point, Dorsey might seek an out clause enabling him to succeed Thompson and have it written in the contract.
In an industry as fluid as pro football, untold variables could change this scenario. If, for example, the Chiefs were to win the Super Bowl, Dorsey might be lionized to such an extent that he would never leave Kansas City.
It’s also possible that the job in Green Bay won’t be the seashells and balloons that it has been with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers playing quarterback. After a generation of winning, there’s no telling what the response would be from fans to a losing season or two.
John Schneider, 45, and Reggie McKenzie, 53, are other Wolf disciples with outstanding track records.
Schneider, however, lost any chance of rejoining his hometown team as GM for a long time by signing an extension in July that runs through 2021. Owner Paul Allen would have to let Schneider leave, and as valuable as he has been that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
McKenzie worked for the Packers from 1994-2011 before becoming the Oakland GM. A former colleague said McKenzie’s affinity for the NFL’s smallest city isn’t as strong, and he signed a four-year extension last summer.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers reportedly have completed six of nine scheduled interviews for their vacant GM position. Last week, Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst were the first to be interviewed.
In a surprising development, sources close to the interviewing process said Gutekunst, the Packers’ director of player personnel, has emerged as the more attractive candidate in the eyes of the 49ers than Wolf, the team’s director of football operations.
“(Gutekunst) just was really good in the interview,” one source said. “They were really impressed.”
Gutekunst, 43, is nine years older than Wolf, and seasoning might be one of the 49ers’ major criteria. However, most of Gutekunst’s background has been scouting college players whereas Wolf’s recent workload was described by Thompson as more a blend of pro and college.
“Brian is a totally different personality than Eliot,” said a mutual friend. “Brian is a sound guy. Takes it all in. Very business-like.”
Wolf, 34, and his wife are expecting their first child in March. A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Green Bay, he is said to enjoy both life in Green Bay and his 13-year career working for the Packers.
At the same time, there is a school of thought that Wolf also is keenly interested in broadening his experience by working for another franchise. It might not be the easiest thing in the world to have the same job that one’s Hall of Fame father had.
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“That’s a tough situation,” said one of his friends. “He’s always going to be the son of Ron Wolf. I don’t know if he wants to do that forever (in Green Bay).”
Wolf wanted to interview for the GM job in Detroit last year but Thompson, taking advantage of a timing issue, was able to block the Lions’ request. The Packers didn’t stand in Wolf’s way when the 49ers came calling, and there seems little doubt that he’d accept the job if owner Jed York were to offer it.
York and chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe also have interviewed half a dozen people to be their new coach. “We need to make sure that the head coach and the general manager know each other, have a good understanding of each other,” York said this month.
Neither Gutekunst nor Wolf has a ready-made partner because the Packers don’t have a bona fide head-coaching prospect on McCarthy’s staff. Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, 37, seems to be a candidate that could join either of the Green Bay personnel men.
OK, so what would happen if Thompson were to call it quits this year, either shortly after a possible Super Bowl title or following the draft?
Sources said Dorsey wouldn’t be available now because of his contractual status in Kansas City.
Russ Ball, the trusty vice president of football administration/player finance, is regarded as a strong contender if the Packers were to stay in-house. Wolf has a more prominent role in Green Bay than Gutekunst, and either one or the other, or both, would be available.
Still, some observers seem convinced that Murphy would rely heavily on Jed Hughes, a head-hunter who delivered him to the Packers’ executive committee in late 2007. Murphy’s daughter, Anna, works under Hughes at Korn Ferry.
The Packers and Chiefs will play divisional playoff games Sunday in Dallas and Kansas City. Thompson and Dorsey, old colleagues and friends, will be sweating it out in the press boxes at AT&T Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium.
At some point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Dorsey back in Green Bay running the same show that Thompson does now.